Thursday, October 02, 2008

"are you a bit of a revolutionary?"

So this professor I've been talking about lately, for my religion & society class, is actually someone I really appreciate. I got on his case a couple posts ago, but that's because he actually was able to move the class into a space of attending to the presence of God together, and then he broke that space at one point--but at least he put us in that space in the first place! That's more than most of my profs have done.

Anyway, so he wants us to meet with him and talk about our paper topics. (He has this crazy idea that a "term paper" should be something we work on all term...go figure!) I've now met with him three times, one-on-one, to discuss my ideas. If I ever get to the point of being a teacher, I think that's a really good idea that I'll try to implement. Probably it won't work for every class, but at least for the smaller ones I'm sure it would. It's refreshing to have a prof who cares about our thoughts and listening to them develop and helping us put our finger on exactly what it is that we're trying to say.

Last week he said, "Have you written any of this down?" When I answered no he said, "Why don't you write some of this out for me and bring it next week." So last Friday I sat down to start writing out some of my thoughts about ideologies and America's version of Christianity, empire in general, what true faithfulness might look like, and how we can live as a society (which necessitates laws of some kind) without oppressing people (and ourselves) with legalism. Since then I've written 34 pages (typed, double-spaced), and that's pretty much just writing topic sentences and a bit about that topic and then moving on to the next somewhat-connected thought. It doesn't even do the work of citing authors and using quotes, although I did include thoughts of some people I've read and a lot of biblical quotes without references. And there is still tons more I could write about all this stuff. I guess it's good i want to do a dissertation on some sort of topic of this sort.

Today my professor was reading through what I had written, interacting with it, asking me questions, etc., and he pointed out that most of it is about the basic problem of one part of me that wants rules, law, stability, logic, and clear definitions, and another part of me that is fairly antinomian, which means "anti" against "nomos" law. I think this is a basic struggle that we deal with in the Quaker tradition: we're all about individual connection with God, but where do we draw the line? We can't just have anarchy (well, some Friends would suggest we should, but most of us don't think so), because no matter what, people are social creatures, and to live together best we need to be able to live in a way that is loving toward everyone and everything. And who gets to decide who's right about the correct way to live? Is the Bible the ultimate authority? If so, who gets to interpret it? If not, how do we know what we believe and who we are? These are some major questions I'm trying to deal with in this class.

I think authority isn't all bad, because we can learn from those who have gone before--we can learn both what to do and what not to do. But we can gain a lot of wisdom by listening to some people in authority. We shouldn't just take what they say at face value, however, but it should strike a chord of truth within us that connects to the Ultimate, that sense of truth and rightness and peace and love that we as Friends call the Inner Light. We need to "trust ourselves," as RW Emerson says, but we also need to trust others and listen for the truth through them. We don't hear everything, and what we do hear isn't always correct. So we need each other, and we need some of those who are in "authority," who have an aptitude for listening and who have gained their authority because of their gifts not because of their money or other traditional form of power.

So anyway, my professor was reading my paper about all this stuff, and said, "Are you a bit of a revolutionary?" I said yes, I guess I sort of am. He wanted to know if I'm doing alright--at least here at school--if I'm given any sort of hearing here. I said there's not a lot of space to talk about most of this stuff, but I enjoy it here in lots of ways, and find it good to be challenged by opinions with which I don't agree. Plus, I didn't say but thought about it, I have a blog and I can say whatever I want there!

He said he wants me to write the most radical paper I've ever written.

In some ways that is freeing--it's great to know that there's someone listening, someone who wants to see where I would go with all these thoughts and what's down deep, what issues are really brewing that need to come to the surface and be vocalized and acted upon.

But in other ways, it's intimidating. OK, write the most radical paper I've ever written...this had better be out there, or he's not going to be impressed! But there's me wanting to fit in with the world's systems again...even when I'm writing something crazy and revolutionary I want approval from the hierarchical system that will give me a degree so I can [do more school and] get a job.

I don't know that what I'm saying is so radical or revolutionary anyway--I think it's just that I want us, as a worldwide church, to actually live the stuff Jesus talked about.

But actually I'm not really a revolutionary, because as I've said here before, I want to be part of a revolution but I don't want to lead it. I don't have the guts...or maybe even the creativity. I have the brains to criticize what we're doing, but not the charisma or the courage to lead the way in doing something different. At least not on a large scale.

This week in class I said something about how our prof is asking two different things of us: he wants us to write papers on "the sacred," on our opinion of "the sacred" or on what is sacred to whatever group or something, and he criticizes hierarchy and traditional systems of authority...and yet we're supposed to write this paper using traditional logic and analysis, reading and interacting with the traditionally validated (male) authors in this field, write a paper of such and such a length and show him that we've done the reading, understand it, see the holes in their argument and can attack them, but also see the holes in our argument and can criticize our own perspective. So basically he's asking us to ditch hierarchy and tradition but do so within a traditional system of logic and research. He said with a wry smile, "So are you telling me I'm not practicing what I'm preaching?" I said with an equally wry smile, "Well I would if you weren't the professor and I wasn't the student!" But this is basically what I'm trying to do in life...have my cake and eat it too. Challenge the traditional system but at the same time work within it and be validated by it.

So, do you think I can do it?


Swallowtail said...

Society is all about how you see it. Those who try to control society frame it in such a way that it appears to be the only logical way. As a planner, I realize that framing issues is what it's all about. You need to see through everything to the essence of every issue so that you understand the whole picture. That is what you are doing... that is what makes a "revolutionary".

Abandoning society just because you see its inconsistencies is not the way to progress. Being "progressive" means challenging society to make progress, to change, to see the inconsistencies and expose them. It's not "having your cake and eating it too". It's accepting society, looking for validation from others in society when you explain your point of view. Not following the sheep over the cliff is not the same as abandoning society.

The movie "Into the Wild" has been on my mind lately and it illustrates the point. Chris McCandless abandoned society. When he finally realized that abandonment was the wrong path, it was too late.

(Those sound like "revolutionary" vice-presidential ideas you have!)


Anonymous said...

Of course you can do it! It seems your professor is giving you the go-ahead to think these radical thoughts and to share them in a somewhat radical way in a traditional setting. It seems he wouldn't encourage you unless he meant it... unless he is trying to trip you up somehow! :-) But keep attempting to sense what he truly means, and pursue the radical thoughts you have and see where the road goes.

Thanks for letting me share some of this journey with you, even if it is from a distance. It was wonderful skyping with you yesterday.

Love, Mom

Aimee said...

Cherice - you are amazing! If anyone can do it, I bet you can. =) I'm so enjoying reading your posts.